Saturday, December 8, 2012

Salem County Farmstead Recording Project

My grant application was approved! Here is my press release all about the project:

Salem cultural landscape historian Janet L. Sheridan has been awarded a $15,000 grant from the New Jersey Historical Commission for a project entitled “The Salem County Farmstead Recording Project.” This is her fourth research grant from the Commission since 2008. Sheridan also received a matching grant from the Vernacular Architecture Forum (VAF). The project will record three historic farms in Salem County with measured drawings, photography, and archival research. Two are in lower Mannington Township, and the third is in Aldine, Alloway Township.

Triangle Farm in Aldine

“The motivating factor for this study was the 2014 Annual Conference of the Vernacular Architecture Forum, which will take place in southern New Jersey,” said Sheridan, who is on the steering committee for the event. “VAF Conferences require advance fieldwork to document in detail regional architectural resources. We wanted to feature agriculture as a tour theme, and realized there were no documented farms. There were farm houses, but no entire farm complexes, and you can’t tell the farming story with just the house.” The conference will dovetail with NJ350, the year-long celebration of New Jersey’s founding in 1664.

Triangle Farm Corn Crib

VAF Conferences are attended by around 300 people from all over the U. S., Canada, and other countries. VAF has an open membership, and anyone may attend. They are heavily focused on getting people into the field to see and appreciate buildings and landscapes and understand the regional historical contexts that shaped them. The conferences combine scholarly study with heritage tourism.

Triangle Farm Dairy Barns

Janet Foster, a New Jersey architectural historian who is chairing the 2014 VAF Steering Committee, stated, “Part of the conference’s goal is to provide attendees with an opportunity to see, first hand, the buildings and sites that give regional character. There is so much to offer in the region from the famous patterned-end brick houses to maritime-related sites, and the sites of religious heritage…. We are very interested in offering site visits to working farms as well, emphasizing the role of historical and continued importance of agriculture in the ‘Garden State.’ Working farms are surprisingly poorly documented as architectural and cultural artifacts in state and county records. Thus, there is a need to develop this documentation, both for inclusion in the information for VAF tours, as well as for longer-range purposes of documenting New Jersey’s farm resources.”

Bartholomew Wyatt Farm

The project will address two New Jersey Historical Commission priorities: Expanding public understanding and awareness of historic resources, and increasing the body and quality of information on New Jersey history available to the public. The grant reviewers stated, “The application makes a persuasive argument about the lack of scholarship on state agricultural buildings and the need to quantitatively and qualitatively document these structures.”

Wyatt barns

There have been statewide histories of agriculture written for New Jersey, but none from the standpoint of architectural evidence. Scholars in Pennsylvania and Delaware, however, have traced the character and evolution of farm life in the nineteenth century by doing just that. A recent study of the agricultural landscape in Delaware rested in part upon the evidence of the over 450 farms recorded or surveyed there by the University of Delaware’s Center for Historic Architecture and Design since 1985. Sheridan’s study will address the gap in New Jersey, and begin a material culture-based inquiry into Salem County’s agricultural history.

Wyatt Corn Crib

Historic buildings associated with farming are rapidly disappearing from the landscape. Once essential for the storage of feed crops, the housing of livestock, and dairying and market produce operations, they have been steadily falling into disuse and disrepair, falling down, burning down, or taken down for salvage or reuse elsewhere. The varieties of farm buildings—houses, barns, corn cribs, chicken coops, pig sties, wagon houses, silos, milk houses, ice houses, equipment sheds, workshops, labor housing, etc.—and associated landscapes—cultivated fields, pastures, irrigation ditches, roads, meadows, wood lots—and their construction, uses, spatial relationships, and regional variations—will be unknown to the future if they disappear before we record enough examples.

Caspar Wistar House

So, the work serves the long-term goal of preserving local and statewide history in the form of records of farm buildings that have a high risk of perishing, associated research about their particular stories, and how these farms fit into the statewide contexts of settlement, agriculture, economy, and architecture. The drawings, photos and narratives will provide data for future research and public interpretation of local history.

Wistar Corn Crib

In Mannington, the Bartholomew Wyatt farm House dates from 1788, and has a surviving dairy/vegetable processing barn, and a corn crib/granary/potato storage barn. The other is the Caspar Wistar House, which dates from 1825, and has a corn crib/wagon house and a horse shed. The two farms are within sight of one another bordering Mannington Meadow, and both were at one time in the Wistar family and later in the Hancock family.

Wistar Horse Shed
Triangle Farm in Aldine, in the uplands feeding Alloway and Cohansey Creeks, dates from 1830 or earlier, and has a complex of four connected barns of various ages built for dairying. The farm house is less formal than the elite Mannington houses, but distinctive as a modest, timber frame, yeoman’s dwelling with transitional interior finishes. The farm has been in the Smith family for over 100 years.

Sheridan, along with hired recorders from the University of Delaware Center for Historic Architecture and Design (CHAD), local trainees, and owner-volunteers, will measure the buildings for conversion into scaled architectural drawings by Sheridan. The field work will begin in January, 2013.

“With this grant I am also initiating a new training element, which the grant reviewers really liked. The grant will provide stipends for two already-selected local trainees to learn to technique of creating scaled field notes. However, I would welcome as many as three others who could volunteer. That way, we could document more farms. I would also enjoy hearing from farmers who think their historic farm is a good candidate for recording. I have a growing list of farms I’d like to get to, so I look forward to a continuing project if I can get more funding.” said Sheridan.